The Red Cross Wants Gamers to ‘Play by the Rules’ of War

The Red Cross Wants Gamers to ‘Play by the Rules’ of War
Activision’s Call of Duty video games on display inside a video game retailer, in New York, Jan. 24, 2022 (Sipa photo by Anthony Behar via AP Images).

The International Committee of the Red Cross launched an initiative this spring to encourage players of first-person shooter video games, or FPS, to follow the rules of war. In short, they want players to stop mowing down civilian nonplayer characters, avoid targeting protected buildings and provide medical care to enemy players. The initiative was launched in April on a website that featured major gamers playing various games—including Fortnite, Arma and Call of Duty—“by the rules.” The site also spelled out the basics of international humanitarian law, or IHL, for beginners.

The idea is not that new. The ICRC has been in discussions with game developers for more than a decade, encouraging them to build incentives into their point system for players to follow fundamental rules of humanitarian law, such as not “finishing off” wounded noncombatants or shooting at ambulances. This initiative was spearheaded in 2011 at a side event of the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent and first described on the ICRC website in September 2013. It builds on research published in the International Review of the Red Crossin 2012 arguing that integrating war law into video games “can improve knowledge of the rules of war among millions of players” and “offer the promise of greater respect for IHL on tomorrow’s battlefields.”

Games like Arma 3 have already partnered with the ICRC to develop stories that showcase humanitarian law in the gameplay, including the option to experience the game as a humanitarian worker. This new initiative goes beyond those earlier efforts, however, by challenging players themselves to follow the rules of war, rather than game designers.

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